Monday, March 16, 2009

The Writer's Temperament

When people refer to the "writer's temperament", it's not usually such a good thing. Moody, they mean. Over-sensitive. Neurotic. Volatile.

Even, sometimes, crazy.

Look at how writers are portrayed in movies! I give you:

Stranger than Fiction (neurotic, crazy, alcoholic, chain-smoker)

Sideways (depressed, neurotic, self-destructive, alcoholic)

And, of course, The Shining.

I think you get the point.

Yet almost none of the authors I know fit this profile. We manage to hold down real jobs, not kill people, not self-destruct on a regular basis...we even look normal (mostly).

However, I do find that most of the writers I know--at least the ones I hang out with on a regular basis--have two basic traits in common, both stemming from the same source: our imaginations.

1. Worry
We do tend to worry a lot. We spin around and around in our heads the worst possible thing that might happen--our agent HATES our latest book, clearly, and that's why she hasn't responded in 24 hours...not that she hasn't even opened the email yet. Our family member's trip could end in disaster: we can picture getting the call, how we would react, probe how we would feel, a little, before we shove that thought away. See, it's our job to make the worst possible thing happen to our protagonists, then get into their heads and figure out how they'd take it. So it's natural for us to carry that over a little. What if there was a writer out there writing our lives? What finger-from-God would point down on us right NOW?

Okay, so maybe that makes us a tiny bit neurotic. Sometimes. But it's balanced with:

2. Gratitude

By this I mean gratitude for the present, for our current state of not-the-worst-possible-thing. If I can always imagine the worst, I can also always be glad it hasn't happened. This is how I can be driving into work this morning in heavy snow, fifteen minutes late because the extended care teacher for Child's school didn't show, and just be happy. Happy I didn't get into a horrific accident on the way, or have a seizure, or get attacked by anger-creatures or vampires or get sucked into an alternate world. Happy that my kid is well and at school, even if she left her snow boots locked in the other classroom. It could have been worse. If I was one of my characters, it absolutely would be worse, just to make things interesting.

Oh yeah, that last little bit might just be telling about the temperament of many of us writers too. We love to give our characters grief. Call it a little masochism streak, maybe. But in with the worry and the gratitude (and the generosity, which comes from empathy, I think), it all balances out. Not to crazed psycho self-absorbed people, but to us, hiding among you. Slightly crazed-with-worry, but ever hopeful. Seeing the world as it is alongside the world as it could be.



Tiffany Schmidt said...

As much as I fight it, I'm definitely a worrier. I've yet to learn how to shut off the what-if cycle. But you're right, as a writer, this skill becomes a blessing (poor little protagonists!).

I agree that most writers are also full of gratitude - probably because we're more observant, so we notice things that others take for granted.

Thank God for other writers - if it weren't you, I might end up like one of those crazed movie stereotypes!

Susan Adrian said...




Gary Corby said...

I'll cop to the worrying.

I think you should add another trait: unparalleled ability to procrastinate.

pseudosu said...

I'm not big on worrying, but I am impatient. Gratitude-- yep, check. I guess I do fit the profile a little too well on the neurotic side, but, someone has to keep the stereotype alive.

HeatherMarie said...

Well now I know I'm meant to be a writer. lol I've got worrying down. It's the worst while I'm driving. My mind wanders (not really a good idea in a car) and I start picturing all of these horrible scenarios, usually involving either my cat or my boyfriend. Sometimes I'm almost to tears, and then I shake myself and ask, "Why am I doing this to myself?" Now I know. :) It's the writer in me tormenting myself. lol

Oh and I'll second the procrastination thing. I've got that one down too. :)

Susan Adrian said...

HeatherMarie: Heh. You're well on your way!

Omo Faith Oshodin said...

I fit this profile to a tee, add obsessive to the list. I obsess over the smallest things.

Check out my blog to journey through my head:

Life is in-deed grand! :D